The Big Match

Hazard lights up Blues' title run

Chelsea defender Marcos Alonso barging into his Spanish compatriot Hector Bellerin to score the opening goal against Arsenal. Chelsea's Eden Hazard scoring the second goal in his side's 3-1 win against title aspirants Arsenal at Stamford Bridge yeste
Chelsea's Eden Hazard scoring the second goal in his side's 3-1 win against title aspirants Arsenal at Stamford Bridge yesterday. The Belgian's deft footwork thwarted several Arsenal players before he beat Petr Cech.PHOTO: REUTERS
Chelsea defender Marcos Alonso barging into his Spanish compatriot Hector Bellerin to score the opening goal against Arsenal. Chelsea's Eden Hazard scoring the second goal in his side's 3-1 win against title aspirants Arsenal at Stamford Bridge yeste
Chelsea defender Marcos Alonso barging into his Spanish compatriot Hector Bellerin to score the opening goal against Arsenal. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Belgian's solo effort increases Chelsea's lead as ecstatic Conte snuffs out Wenger's aspirations

ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE
Chelsea 3 Arsenal 1


LONDON • Perhaps the greatest compliment that can be paid to this renascent Chelsea football side, now the Premier League title race is becoming a procession and it is starting to feel like fans are witnessing one of the great managerial performances of the modern era, is that there are still three months of the season to go and surely nobody can expect them to surrender their position now.

What other conclusion can we possibly draw after their latest freewheeling victory - 3-1 over Arsenal at Stamford Bridge yesterday - and another day when it was laid out in precise terms why Antonio Conte's men are pulling clear with the chasing pack little more than specks in the distance?

Chelsea have now won all but one of their matches at Stamford Bridge this season. A team that finished 10th last season have reinvented themselves as champions-in-waiting, averaging more than two points a game, and in the process they have accelerated what is becoming known as the annual Arsenal meltdown.

This was just another demonstration of why Arsene Wenger was horribly mistaken to view his team as authentic title challengers.

And, with four defeats in their last nine league fixtures, the most pertinent question for Arsenal now is not whether they can make up the 12-point gap to Chelsea but whether they have the fortitude to continue their long sequence of top-four finishes.

That cannot be guaranteed on the evidence of their latest defeat and a day memorable for Conte throwing himself into the crowd after Eden Hazard had waltzed through the visitors' defence to score his team's second goal.

LEFT WITH NO ANSWERS

It was a foul. It was 100 per cent a foul. It was even dangerous play. That doesn't take anything away from the performance of Chelsea.

ARSENE WENGER, who watched the game from the stands as he served the third game of a four-match touchline ban, on Marcos Alonso's opening goal for Chelsea.

The Belgian winger left a trail of defenders in his wake to double Chelsea's lead in the 53rd minute, in between a contentious header by Marcos Alonso, who appeared to elbow Hector Bellerin on the side of the head, and a late lob from Arsenal old boy Cesc Fabregas.

"It is always good to score beautiful goals against a massive team," Hazard told Sky Sports. "I enjoyed the game and the goals. We scored three beautiful goals and we deserve to win this game.

"We are still top of the league. We have good confidence and we want to finish the season and stay top."

Asked what he had been thinking as he bore down on goal, twice beating Laurent Koscielny and leaving Francis Coquelin in a crumpled heap, Hazard replied: "To dribble like I did. It is not like this in every game. I know I need to score more and today I did. I am happy."

At this stage a year ago, Chelsea had 29 points and were languishing in 13th position. Their latest win puts them on 59 points with no suggestion that they might be susceptible to the collective loss of nerve that Arsenal seem to encounter with a frequency that must be infuriating for their supporters.

"We played a good game with a good intensity and organisation. We deserved to win and I'm pleased for my players," Conte said.

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Wenger's team, who got Olivier Giroud's stoppage-time consolation, have now lost their last five visits to Stamford Bridge, with a combined score of 15-2, and perhaps the most alarming aspect for their fans is that the same deficiencies exist.

Every time, Arsenal have failed the test of their nerve and their competitive courage. Once again, a key game unfolded without any meaningful contribution from their playmaker Mesut Ozil.

As has become the norm, there is the distinct impression that they are too fragile, mentally and physically, to sustain a title challenge - and, in fairness to Ozil, he was far from the only one to suffer in Arsenal's colours.

THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 05, 2017, with the headline 'Hazard lights up Blues' title run'. Print Edition | Subscribe